the weblog of Alan Knox

When you think of leaders

Posted by on May 7, 2009 in elders, office | 20 comments

When you think of leaders – that is, leaders within the church – what do you think about first? Do you think about their ability to speak and teach? Do you think about their ability to motivate or persuade? Do you think about their zeal or passion? Do you think about their organizational or managerial skills? Do you think about their training or education? Do you think about the way they serve others?

Do you follow who those who speak well, those who are able to motivate, those who are passionate, those who can organize, those who are educated, or those who serve others?


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  1. 5-7-2009


    I’ll answer your question by saying that of all the leaders I have known, from several nations, one stands out as a leader, and he was one of those “who serve others”, and that 24/7.

    Younger than I,he became my best friend,and confidant, so I knew him well. He was all of the adjectives you use, but “servant to Christ and His body” describes him well.

  2. 5-7-2009

    Luke 22:25-27 (NIV)
    “Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

    I think we are instructed here to follow those who serve… not those who lead with their authority. Personally I’m not sure where I’m at with this. Maybe I’m not following anyone right now? But I should be following those who serve.

  3. 5-7-2009

    Aussie John,

    We all need that kind of leader.


    I was taught to follow the one who could speak well, who was well-educated, who could make decisions and persuade others to follow, and who was a good organizer/administrator. I’m beginning to learn how important it is to change my way of thinking, and I’m starting to follow servants.

    To be honest, I don’t like this as much, because in order to follow servants, I must serve as well.


  4. 5-7-2009

    Yes, Alan I agree it’s not as natural as following those who are ‘natural leaders’. But it’s part of the upside-down kingdom of God. Instead of having ambitions of being a great leader, we are to have ambitions of being a great servant… nothing to get proud about, but likely more rewarding.

    Good challenge!

  5. 5-7-2009

    I will admit that I follow men who are great teachers, men like Piper and MacArthur. I will gladly drive to Lousiville to Together for the Gospel to hear them speak but probably not to hear someone known for their service to others.

  6. 5-7-2009

    good questions…. I think growing up I would have said leaders are the people who speak in front. But then in my teen years, I probably would have added those who serve, but probably in a more public way like organizing groups or events. As an adult, I see leadership as a mark of maturity.

    In short, leadership is in ALL of the things you bring up.. not one or the other.

    It is interesting to note that in our education system, we value a certain kind of Christian “leader” to teach us. People pick a seminary or a Doctoral program based on the writings of someone who teaches, but I have yet to meet anyone who picked a Doctoral program based on the reputation the professors as “servants”.

    I don’t think that invalidates these men as leaders, but they are only one kind of leader… not the “ideal” for all leaders.

    Hope that makes some sense.

  7. 5-7-2009

    Brother Alan,

    I follow those who walk with Jesus. They are people who live out the Spirit-filled life. I think one of the biggest paradigm shifts I have dealt with is that of seeing that leaders are the ones who “do” not just “speak” about doing.

    Peace to you brother,
    From the Middle East

  8. 5-7-2009


    “upside-down kingdom”… yes… and upside-down leadership. We don’t follow the people that the world would follow. We follow how submit themselves to others and serve them.


    I’m sure you’re in good company. Those are the kinds of people I often follow as well.

    Joe (JR),

    Can someone be a leader (the way Jesus defined leadership) without being a servant?


    Yes. I would suggest that those who are following Jesus are also serving others (John 13).


  9. 5-7-2009

    No, as was mentioend above, Spirit-filled service is a part of all Christian leadership and the form it takes is dependent upon the giftings of each believer–there is a diversity of giftings for the edification of the church. Not all serve in the same way, but all must serve.

    Alan, do you have a problem with those who see teachers like Piper as leaders? Are you suggesting that someone who preaches or organizes events for the church Body cannot be a true servant? Are the two antithetical?

  10. 5-7-2009

    J.R. Miller,

    Good question. Can someone with the gift of teaching be a viewed as a leader?

    Someone with the gift of teaching should be using their gifting to serve Christ’s body. So does serving make them a leader? Maybe. Or maybe we don’t have to follow everyone who serves… those who serve well with the giftings they are given are considered greatest in the kingdom… but it may not mean they need to lead and the rest need to ‘follow’. It may just mean the the rest can learn from the teachings, and with discernment of the Holy Spirit apply it to their lives as they follow Jesus.

    Just a thinking out loud here.

    God bless.

  11. 5-7-2009

    Joe (JR),

    Its possible to be a teacher, writer, administrator, educator, etc. without being a servant. I think, if I understand what Jesus was saying in Matt 20 and John 13, these are not the people we should follow. If someone is serving others then we should follow them. Sometimes, these servants will also teach, write, administer, etc.


    Is it possible to “serve” by teaching without truly serving in the way that Jesus described in Matt 20 and John 13?


  12. 5-7-2009

    Joe (JR),

    I meant to ask you the same question that I asked Jonathan above:

    Is it possible to “serve” by teaching (or writing or organizing or persuading etc.) without truly serving in the way that Jesus described in Matt 20 and John 13?


  13. 5-7-2009


    Yes, I think we sometimes use the term serve to refer to someone working for the ‘church’. They may be making sacrifices and serving God… but if they are getting paid by the ‘church’, and at the helm of the institution, I’m not sure if serve is the best word to describe their relationship with the body and the world.

    I think it is possible to use giftings in these areas of teacher, writer, administrator, educator, etc. and do it with a servant attitude as well.

    So no, not all who teach are also servants.

    But some who serve may also teach.

    And many who are servants do not teach, or administer, or write, etc.

    And those who serve are the greatest in Christ’s kingdom.(These thoughts may sound like I’m judging some of our leaders, but the challenge is for myself as well… I mostly just serve myself.)

  14. 5-7-2009


    Exactly… the focus is serving others first. We are exhorted to follow those who serve others – which would then make them our leaders – regardless of their giftings or talents or education or abilities.


  15. 5-7-2009

    What are you thoughts on a person in a managerial position (i.e. Director of Technology at IBM) and their ability to lead by serving?

    Is it a dichotomy?

    God Speed,

  16. 5-7-2009


    IBM is not the church. However, yes, I believe it is possible for business leaders to lead by serving. I’ve read about some business models that are based on service and mutual submission instead of authority and position.


  17. 5-8-2009

    Alan, i am with you on that!

  18. 5-8-2009

    Wow! A lot of great comments.

    My initial reaction to the question was more cynical to the point of, “I don’t think I have ever seen real biblical leadership.” Therefore, “I am not much impressed with church leadership.”

    Not that I have not seen a lot of dedicated and sincere individuals, because I have. But the men I have the most respect for and am more likely to follow, are those who I have genuine relationships with and are my friends. I know they care about me personally and are not motivated by the fact that they have a title or are called pastor or elder.

    It is no wonder we struggle with identifying true church leadership because we very rarely ever see it. I believe there is such tremendous pressure on church leaders because of our hierarchal paradigm of church leadership. It puts false burdens on men.

    Dave Black said in a post yesterday, that leadership is more functional than positional. I agree on the functional part, but I hesitate to declare that church leadership is positional. I think that is the problem with most leadership in the church. To be positional you have to ascend. To be a servant you have to descend. Position puffs up. Servanthood causes humility.

  19. 5-8-2009

    When I attended an institutional church, the main public speaker was known for his excellent oratory skills and expositional speeches. I learned a lot from his teaching, but he was never leader. There was however an older gentleman who was also able to teach and who spent time with me listening to me and giving me advice from the scriptures, he was a true friend and someone I looked up to as an example to follow. That is what I believe a biblical elder/pastor is to be. There is a big difference. BTW: The home/simple church organic church is just as devoid of true leadership as the traditional church.

  20. 5-8-2009

    Joe (JR),

    Good! :)


    I’m starting to see leadership by serving others. It’s still rare, but I had a good conversation with someone about this recently.


    You’re right. Meeting location and structure/organization is no guarantee that servants will be recognized as leaders.